The securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton kicked off Thursday in Harris County with no new trial date being set.

Instead, the new judge in the case, Robert Johnson, asked both sides to come back July 27 to continue discussing a potential schedule. Prosecutors pushed to hold off setting a trial date until they can get paid – an issue currently tied up in a Dallas appeals court.

Paxton has had two previous trial dates scrapped due to legal disputes – first over the venue, then over the judge. The hearing Thursday was the first time Paxton appeared before Johnson, the new judge, in the relocated venue of Harris County.

Paxton has pleaded not guilty to misleading investors in a company from before his time as attorney general. He has been fighting the charges for nearly two years now, and if convicted, he faces up to 99 years in prison.

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He has beaten a similar, civil case at the federal level.

The issue of the prosecutors' pay has long consumed the case. Collin County commissioners voted last month not to approve payments to the prosecutors and to instead take the dispute to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals, where it has not yet been resolved.

"As long as they continue to sue us, our hands our tied," said one of the prosecutors, Brian Wice. "This is an unprecedented attempt to defund and ultimately derail the prosecution."

Paxton's lawyers countered that the payment case could take much longer than the prosecutors were letting on.

"Whether they get their money is not our problem," Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said, adding that the citizens of Texas also deserve a speedy trial. "He is the sitting attorney general."

The former judge in the case, George Gallagher, had rejected a similar effort by the prosecutors to put off the trial until they could get paid. 

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Johnson made another ask of both sides at Thursday's hearing: He wants them to prepare a timeline of the case so far and submit it to him before their next meeting. They agreed on a July 7 deadline.

Whenever the trial date is set, it will only be for the lesser of three charges Paxton faces. Both sides expect the other two charges to be taken up in a potential subsequent trial.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • While Paxton faces up to 99 years in prison., his Republican base is standing by him. [Full story]

  • Harris County District Judge Robert Johnson's court has been assigned to oversee Attorney General Ken Paxton's securities fraud case. [Full story]

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